Don NelsonBy Don Nelson

I don’t spend a lot of time with “what ifs,” especially the backward-looking kind that involve speculation about how things would be different if they had gone differently.

Waste of time. What’s the point? Things turned out how they did, and that’s that.

Except, that is, when the “what ifs” evoke powerful emotional reactions that can’t be denied, and force you to consider the consequences of alternative outcomes to your real-life timeline.

In other words, crap happens but it turns out OK when it could have gone horribly wrong but for the vicissitudes of fate. Most of us have experienced at least one and probably several vivid, typically excruciating moments that, when we review them, would have altered everything in our lives. I’m living one now, and the “what ifs” are sobering.

A little less than three weeks ago, Jacqui and I were reveling in the Methow’s glory. We hiked to the top of Goat Peak after an absence of several years, and traversed the glorious Maple Pass loop for the first time. We felt on top of the world.

On a Monday, Jacqui returned to Seattle, where we still have a house (I spend most of my time here, in a rented cabin, but get over to the “coast” fairly regularly). Tuesday she had a bad stomachache that wouldn’t go away. Wednesday night I drove over to spend a few days in Seattle. I found her on the living room couch in extreme pain that, within a half-hour, morphed into horrific agony.

I took her to a nearby emergency room where, after some quick and anxious diagnostics, it was determined that she was in a life-threatening situation that required emergency surgery – immediately. She went into the operating room that night.

The surgery was successful and Jacqui is recovering. But the “what ifs” soon started piling up. We learned that people die from her condition if not treated right away. When she later asked the surgeon how soon her situation would have turned fatal without attention, his answer was “maybe an hour, maybe a day.”

Maybe an hour? What if I hadn’t showed up when I did? Jacqui travels extensively for her job, often to Europe or Asia. What if she had been on an overseas flight – or even a domestic trip?

What if the attack had occurred while we were at Lightning Bill’s lookout tower, or at the Maple Pass saddle? Or at my cabin on West Chewuch? Even with excellent EMT care, could we have gotten to an ER, had the problem diagnosed and made it to an OR in time? In say, maybe an hour?

That’s a question anyone who chooses to live in the Methow must contemplate. We make conscious decisions about “what if” before it becomes “what now.” Our experience was not uncommon and will resonate with others.

Throughout that evening and the days that followed, we were focused on what needed to be done next medically. The “what if” reminders were front and foremost. Want a reality check? Watch the person you love writhing in pain on a gurney in the emergency room while a nurse asks her (quite appropriately in the moment, because things did not look good) if she has a will and a power of attorney for critical health decisions (yes and yes, we answered).

We were fortunate. We are grateful, mindful and present. Jacqui is alive, recovering and getting her snark back, and that is how I know there is a world because I can’t imagine one without her.

But what if  …